As with any debate that involves money, you’ll find strong views for and against tithing. If you type “tithe”, “tithes” or “tithing” into a search engine you quickly begin to get the impression that there are at least one or two former tithe payers out there who aren’t “happy bunnies” and you’d be forgiven for thinking that they’re probably not going to give you the most balanced view of this rather emotive subject. Then on the other hand there’s the pro-tithing lobby. Equally sincere, yet equally polarised, not least because arguably most theologians who defend the doctrine of mandatory tithing today are salaried because it. Not exactly the most independent perspective you might argue. One thing’s for certain, they can’t both be right.
The only way to get a balanced view of the subject is to objectively research both sides of the argument. Here are a few pointers to get you underway, but don’t stop here. Take a long hard look at other sources about tithing, both for and against it, and then judge for yourself.
Under the Old Covenant offerings were required from all households (Deuteronomy 16:16). Tithing though was instituted under the written Torah (or law of Moses) and was offered for the benefit of the Levites serving in the administration of the Tabernacle and later the Temple. (Leviticus 27:30,32 Deuteronomy 12:17, Deuteronomy 14:23,28, Nehemiah 10:37, Nehemiah 12:44, Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42). Tithes have always been God’s first, (Leviticus 27:30-32, Malechi 3:8-10) and then the Levites.
So far, these points aren’t up for debate. However, tithe funded churches today take these arguments two steps further. The first step is to argue: since there is no longer a Temple but we’re doing God’s work, today tithes should be given to us instead.
The second step is to say that actually tithing isn’t just on agricultural increase, it’s on all forms of income. More on that, in just a minute.
There are two things that are interesting about the argument that since the Temple has been suspended tithes should be collected by churches.
Firstly, try to find a scripture that supports that view. For example try to find a scripture that says something like: “Now that the Temple has been destroyed, tithes should be paid to the church”, or even “Now that the Temple has been destroyed, tithes should be paid directly to synagogues”
You’ll be looking for a long time.
You’d also have to be forgiven for asking: if tithing is to be continued after the dissolution of the Temple, then surely Jews would be funding synagogues with tithes. However, the fact is that (on the whole) they dare not, because scripture gives them no authority to do so. For more information about this Google Chapter three of Ernest Martin’s on-line book “The Tithing Dilemma”. It is well understood in Jewish circles that although Rabbis who teach in synagogues can be from any tribe, scriptural authority allows tithes to only be accepted by Levites in the context of a Temple administration.
Other reasons for mandating tithing today in Christian churches include the arguments that Jacob tithed (Genesis 28:20-22) and on more than one occasion Abraham tithed (Genesis 14:17-24 & Hebrews 7:1-10
1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “king of righteousness,” and then also king of Salem, meaning “king of peace,” 3 without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually. 4 Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils. 5 And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; 6 but he whose genealogy is not derived from them received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. 7 Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better. 8 Here mortal men receive tithes, but there he receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives. 9 Even Levi, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, so to speak, 10 for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.
…and because they did so before the Old Covenant tithing rules in Leviticus were established, tithing is clearly not just an Old Covenant ordinance and it’s not just on agricultural produce. Therefore tithing can’t be “done away” just because the Temple no longer exists and furthermore; all forms of income should be tithed on.
The counter arguments to this are firstly, that Jacob’s promise to tithe was conditional (Genesis 28:20-22). Read it for yourself. He said he’d tithe if he was blessed, (not if he wasn’t). It certainly doesn’t seem to be the mandated form of tithing that most tithe funded churches require today.
Furthermore if Abraham’s tithe on the spoils of the battle with the Kings was because tithing was universally mandated before Leviticus on all forms of income, then why in Numbers 31:25-30 did God make completely different arrangements for the spoils the Israelites gained after their battle with the Midianites ?
Numbers 31:25-31 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 26 “Count up the plunder that was taken–of man and beast–you and Eleazar the priest and the chief fathers of the congregation; 27 and divide the plunder into two parts, between those who took part in the war, who went out to battle, and all the congregation. 28 And levy a tribute for the LORD on the men of war who went out to battle: one of every five hundred of the persons, the cattle, the donkeys, and the sheep; 29 take it from their half, and give it to Eleazar the priest as a heave offering to the LORD. 30 And from the children of Israel’s half you shall take one of every fifty, drawn from the persons, the cattle, the donkeys, and the sheep, from all the livestock, and give them to the Levites who keep charge of the tabernacle of the LORD.” 31 So Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses. NKJV
Did God suspend tithing on just that one occasion, without explanation? Arguably not: more probably tithing was commanded only on agricultural increase to Levites within the administrative framework of the Tabernacle or Temple.
Interesting too isn’t it, that Abraham didn’t keep ANY of the spoils from the battle for himself? What sort of “increase” was that exactly? OK yes of course, if he did consider it his “increase” he could do anything he liked with it, even give it all away, but isn’t it more likely that Abraham simply gave offerings of ten percent? And in the absence of a scriptural command from God for Abraham to tithe, isn’t it reading into scripture (not just a little), to say that he always had to tithe and do so on all forms of income?
The Numbers 31 counter argument seems to be quite a compelling argument against tithing. Yet, ask yourself this: when churches preach mandatory tithing do they openly acknowledge this counter-argument and transparently address the apparent contradiction satisfactorily?
If tithing wasn’t just for farmers but was on all forms of income including that of city dwellers too, why did King David have to make the following proclamation?
2 Chronicles 31:3-4 “Moreover he commanded the people who dwelt in Jerusalem to contribute support for the priests and the Levites, that they might devote themselves to the Law of the LORD”.
If tithes were to be paid to Levites on all forms of income, not just agricultural increase, why didn’t he just say: “Give your tithes, as commanded in the law of God”?
Although they missed the weightier matters of the law, Christ said that the Pharisees were right to tithe on mint anise and cumin (Matthew 23:23) and by doing so clearly endorsed tithing to the Levites on agricultural produce. Interesting though isn’t it that Christ didn’t instead say: “You tithe on even the smallest of coins that you earn”? Why was that do you think?
Churches that mandate tithing today argue, that the Pharisee praying with the publican in the Temple tithed on all he possessed (Luke 18:12). This, they say, shows that tithing wasn’t just on agricultural “increase”.
That’s a fair point you might say.
But arguably, when he said he fasted twice in the week and tithed on all he possessed, the Pharisee was emphasising the things that he did above and beyond what the law demanded of everyone. He was simply saying: “Here’s why I’m special”. In would seem then actually that instead of supporting the argument that tithing was expected on more than agricultural increase, it actually contradicts it.
You might also be forgiven for asking: why did Christ pay his taxes with the miracle of the coin in the fish (Matthew 17:27) if He could have paid them from tithe-funded income? And whilst we’re on the subject, Mark 6:7-9 etc. shows Christ teaching the apostles to survive on nothing whilst they preached the gospel. What was the point in doing this if they were going to be assured of a tithe-based income?
That certainly seems to fit with Christ’s message to them (Matthew 5:1) in the beatitudes.
25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 28 So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 “For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. NKJV
Not exactly the approach of some televangelists is it? Certainly Christ doesn’t seem to take the approach: “Don’t worry, you only need at least ten tithe payers and your problems are over”. In fact come to think of it, all it would have taken to clear up the tithing controversy would be one or two clear statements from anyone to the effect that: Tithing is mandatory on all forms of income (not just agricultural produce) and in the absence of a Levitical priesthood tithes can be paid to anyone who’s doing God’s work. That would have solved the entire problem. However, scripture doesn’t say this, and organisations that preach mandatory tithing read these things into scripture.
It certainly seems clear that Christ’s endorsement of tithing agricultural produce to the Levites continued after His crucifixion at least until the destruction of the Temple. Despite what many people say, Hebrews 8:4 shows very clearly that the author of Hebrews believed that the Levitical priesthood remained a valid institution after Christ’s crucifixion.
Certainly most commentators agree that Paul kept a Nazirite vow (Acts 18:18) and sponsored the Nazirite vows of four brethren (Acts 21:23-24), both of which involved animal sacrifices at the Temple. Furthermore, like all the temple ordinances Hebrews 7:4-5 indicates that the practise of tithing to Levites also legitimately continued following Christ’s crucifixion…
Hebrews 7:4-5 And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law,…NKJV
…at least until the temple was sacked by Titus’ troops in AD 70.
This begs a question then: did church members really have to pay 10% of their agricultural increase to the New Testament church AND another 10% to the Levites who administered at the Temple? If not, where’s does Christ or any of the New Testament scriptures for that matter specifically say anything to the contrary?
Why did Paul work as a tent-maker (Acts 18:1-3) if he could have required tithes from his churches? He certainly wasn’t ministering to less than ten wage earning Christians as an apostle. Alternatively if, as some argue, he did this only because he didn’t want to be a burden to his brethren, wasn’t he endorsing behaviour that most tithe requiring churches say is stealing from God (Malechi 3:8)? And similarly, is it really likely that Paul decided not to teach his churches to tithe but he didn’t shrink from criticizing Peter in front of the entire Antioch in Galatians 2:11? On the other hand isn’t it more likely that because he was a Benjaminite and wasn’t involved in administering the Temple, Paul simply had no right to demand tithes?
So particularly because the debate about tithing today is so polarised, it’s worthwhile being cautious of the bias on both sides. Be sensitive to theologians who may have conflicts of interests on the one hand and those less than happy former tithe-payers on the other, and try to find writers who pay more attention to the unbiased analysis of scripture and as the Bereans did in Acts 17:10-11 search the scriptures to see if these things are so,